Rome’s year 2000 Jubilee included an unusual ecumenical event at the Coliseum in Rome on Sunday evening May 7th.
Indeed, David Willey of the BBC said that it was one of the most important events of the Vatican’s Jubilee year. The proceedings commenced privately within the Coliseum for the benefit of invited churchmen and then moved outside for the ordinary pilgrims. Here, Pope John Paul II paid tribute to ‘the Christian martyrs of the 20th century.’ He referred to ‘countless Christians’, but at every turn he highlighted those who had suffered in Russia. We shall see why.
The unusual thing about this ‘Ecumenical Commemoration of Witnesses of the Faith in the 20th Century,’ was the presence of the Russian Orthodox. Relations are bad between Rome and the Russian Orthodox, as readers will know. But by billing it as, ‘The common inheritance of Catholics, Orthodox, Anglicans and Protestants,’the organisers had forced the Russian Orthodox Church to attend lest the Russian (Roman Catholic) Latin Rite churches should steal the limelight.
The Pope had already set up a New Martyrs Commission to discover forgotten or unknown martyrs of the 20th Century. Yet out of all the 20th Century martyrs worldwide whose dying speeches he could have quoted, the Pope singled out Orthodox Metropolitan Benjamin of St. Petersburg martyred in 1922. Again, it was Russia he was targeting.
Meanwhile all 19 different denominations attending were Romanised by having to say ‘Our Father’ in Latin!
Russian Roman Catholics also dominated the New Martyrs Commission. Pope John Paul II personally harnessed the Commission to the Jubilee. Three weeks earlier the Catholic World News Service had announced that more than 10,000 Christians who died for their faith during the 20th Century would be named in a volume prepared by the Commission for New Martyrs.
The listing of 20th century martyrs had been under way since 1995. Because of Pope John Paul II’s involvement, it was inevitable that its emphasis should b on the east. The Commission was headed by Archbishop Michel Hrynchyshyn, the Ukrainian Catholic exarch of France. This also was at the Pope’s request.
Hrynchyshyn commented, ‘The final product of the Commission will be an enormous work of 15-20 volumes with 1 or 2 pages consecrated to each of the Christians …’
Russia first again
Again, the official Vatican publicity for the event in the Coliseum had put Russia first: ‘There will then be the specific commemoration of the witnesses to the faith in the 20th century which will include the following groups: Christians who bore witness to their faith under Soviet totalitarianism; witnesses to the faith who were victims of communism in other nations of Europe; confessors of the faith who were victims of nazism and fascism; followers of Christ who gave their lives for the proclamation of the Gospel in Asia and Oceania …’
On the day of the event, the Pope placed ‘Those that died in Soviet Gulags’ right at the top of a breathtakingly long and noble list. This underlined the importance eof Russian Roman Catholic martyrs. Although several choirs had travelled long distances for the event, the choir from the Ukraine was heavily promoted.
The fight was now plainly on between the Vatican and the Russian Orthodox Church to grab the high ground in what one might term the battle of the ‘Gulag factor’. Rome’s purpose in all this was, of course, to lay the groundwork for her invasion of Russia and it had been put firmly in place before President Putin ever visited the Vatican.
There are two reasons for conjecturing that the Vatican will succeed with its ‘Catholic expansionism’ into Russia despite the bitter Orthodox opposition. Firstly, 20th century history must have taught Russian diplomats, unsophisticated, as they sometimes are, that Russia needs the Vatican’s political influence as much as the Vatican needs Russia.
The second reason for thinking Rome will succeed is one that operates at grass roots level. Rome discovered to her cost, following the Beatification of Pius XII, that ordinary folk have long memories not easily susceptible to spin doctoring. There are many poor and dispossessed and unchurched in the Russian hinterlands who still harbour resentful memories of the behaviour of the Russian Orthodox Church throughout the decades of grinding Soviet oppression. These people now represent a fertile mission field for Rome’s proselytising.
Jesuit Fr. Joseph Werth
Immediately after the fall of Communism, Jesuit Father Joseph Werth set up as Bishop of Siberia in Novosibirsk, on the Trans Siberian Railway. Jesuits can be bishops in perilous outposts. His gentle demeanour belied the steel behind his words when he defended his proselytising activities on the BBC documentary The New Holy Roman Empire in 1992. He was asked, ‘Are you here to steal the Orthodox flock?’ Werth countered, ‘I’d rather not answer that. We are not going to close our doors. They are open to all. Shutting them to ethnic Russians would be an insult. Westerners are complacent about their faith, but here people have struggled for years and were persecuted. They have a different attitude. We truly hope these people will inspire a Church restoration. That’s our hope,’ (italics mine).
Jesuit Werth predicted the work’s expansion, and in 2002 the Vatican divided Russia into ‘four fully-fledged Roman Catholic dioceses ... Moscow, Saratov, Novosibirsk and Irkutsk.’ The Vatican drying pointed out to the Russian Orthodox Church that there were four dioceses in 1920 at the start of the revolution, catering for 1.65 million Roman Catholics and despite the ‘icy torment’ of most horrendous persecution over a century, there are still 1.3 million Roman Catholics to pastor today!
Rome’s Jesuits are counting on the folk memory of the Orthodox capitulation to the Bolshevik revolution. As Werth hinted, it was ‘they’, the Orthodox churches who too easily shut the doors.
Jesuit success in Russia
A 2002 Russian Orthodox ‘Rome Watch’ report described Jesuit progress, ‘They control St. Thomas Aquinas College … There were 71 students in the central branch of St. Thomas Aquinas College in the 2000-2001 academic year. Its branch in Novosibirsk is more modest. There are only 26 students studying in it. The general presence of the Jesuits in Novosibirsk, however, is considerable … Catholic Bishop Joseph Werth of Western Siberia himself is a Jesuit. There is a Jesuit noviciate in Novosibirsk, where 8 young novices from Russia, Ukraine and Belarus are trained (other young Jesuits, the so-called ‘Scholastics’ study in Jesuit centres abroad). In addition, there is an Inigo Jesuit religious centre in the city. They also control the TV studio of the newly-established Catholic Diocese of Preobrazhensk. The Jesuits also seek to ‘nourish’ Novosibirsk State University.’
We have previously noted that Putin visited the 15th century Orthodox Solovetski monastery on the Solovetski archipelago in August 2001 where his host was Alexei II, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church. Alexei was still smarting from the Pope’s triumphant visit to the Ukraine on 23-27th June 2001. Putin was almost certainly there to exorcise his KGB past. The Solovetski archipelago is in the Gulag archipelago and its monastery became the first and archetypal labour camp on which the rest were modelled. Both Putin and Alexei II have a serious KGB past to tarnish their martyr promoting credentials.
But anyway, they were both too late, for the Pope had got to the Ukraine first.
Pope’s visit to the Ukraine
On his visit to the Ukraine, the Pope beatified 28 new Roman Catholic Martyrs in Lviv, at the largest gathering ever to sin the Latin Rite in the Ukraine. Typical of these martyrs was Blessed Fr. Leonid Feodorov 1879-1935, who died both for his faith and his defiance of the Orthodox hierarchy in this very Solovetski Gulag. Other new ‘Blesseds’ may also have suffered there but details are scarce.
The Orthodox were left floundering despite having numerically more martyrs for they had neither the Vatican’s Hrynchyshyn to prepare intricate biographies nor an international martyr symbol, namely the Coliseum, to publicise it all!
The Vatican had gate crashed the ‘Gulag factor’ party under the very nose of Alexei II who had used every trick available to sabotage the Pope’s Ukraine visit.
The Russian Roman Catholics have now initiated their own ‘Catholic New Martyrs of Russia’. It is intended to prepare the way of the beatification of the Catholic martyrs of XXth century in Russia. These priests opposed both the Bolsheviks and the Orthodox simultaneously.
The Orthodox retaliate
The Orthodox have since retaliated, such is their power behind the scenes, by preventing Roman Catholic priests from entering Russia to serve in the new dioceses. Even new Bishop Jerzy Mazur of Irkutsk had his Visa withdrawn and subsequently cancelled without explanation at Moscow airport in April 2002. After his deportation back to Poland he assumed his new duties over the telephone. Such persecution will only serve the Vatican cause.
But this is a serious matter for Protestants because genuine missionary effort is also affected as the Orthodox become more belligerent. Roman Catholicism and the Protestant churches fall under the same legislation as Sects – see Country profiles Russia HYPERLINK ‘http://persecution.org’
Please pray for the Lord’s people in Russia.